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Succulents: A drought- tolerant solution to California water


UrbanGarden Joel Berlin

s a xeriscape designer, I am constantly hearing from clients, “I don’t want a desert garden.” There’s mass confusion regarding the difference between succulents, cacti and euphorbias, and although American cacti do very well here in San Diego—we do not live in a desert. San Diego’s Sunset Zone 24 is known as a coastal sage, while the thermal belts of Sunset Zones 21 and 23 are really chaparrals. Suc- culents thrive here in San Diego’s hydro-limited microclimates and blend with ease into a xeriscape

A The lawn above exhibits a mix of mulch, rocks, cacti and some varieties of hardy flowering plants. (Joel Berlin/SDUN)

planting plan. The root word, xeri, comes from the Greek word xeros meaning dry. Hence, xeriscaping is a creative landscaping art that combines water-efficient plants to

produce a sustainable garden. Debra Lee Baldwin, an expert in the world of succulents, has written many books on this exact subject. She defines succulents as “any plant

that survives drought by storing water in its leaves, stems or roots.” By definition, these would include cacti, euphorbias and other drought- tolerant plants and California natives, and also including those hailing from Australia and South Africa. While a succulent garden is not the same as a cactus garden, all cacti are succu- lents but all succulents are not cacti. Many cacti live in extreme, hot, sun- ny conditions with long dry spells in equally dry, sandy soils. In contrast,

San Diego Uptown News | March 4-17, 2011


succulents need a sun break, and require soils rich in organic matter, holding moisture. Euphorbias are known for containing a white milky substance that irritates human skin but are excellent additions to a succulent garden. They vary from shrubs to trees and even plants that look exactly like cacti. The trick to a very successful succulent planting plan is to mix all these genera of plants. Combining different blooming periods with de- ciduous euphorbias will create year around interest. By mixing plant textures and colors with hardscape features, such as, boulders, stucco walls, and water features, will keep the eye moving through your landscape, while bringing a sense of balance and harmony.

Some of my favorite succulents

are Aeonium Cyclops, Kiwi, Zwart- kop, Agave attenuata, Aloe Blue Elf’, Bulbine frutescens, Caland- rina grandiflora, Kalanchoe luciae, Portulacaria afra, Dudleya brittonii, the genus Echeveria and Semper- vivum. Most of these work well in combination with Phormiums (New Zealand Flax), Anigozanthos flavidus (Kangaroo Paw), Yacca, Salvias and ornimental grasses such as Muhlenbergia capillaries (Pink Muhly) and Pennisetum setaceum ‘Eaton Canyon’ (Dwarf Purple Fountain Grass). The Urban Garden will bring you the newest technologies to green, gardening and landscaping. It is my hope through this series of articles you will be inspired to look at new directions in sustain- able gardening and landscaping practices. The face of San Diego is changing as water diminishes and urban sprawl continues to grow. Be inspired and make a change.u

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Shown here is a project using mixed-use plantings for a more drought-sensitive lawn edge. (Joel Berlin/SDUN)


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